Iain Cunningham (Convener of the World Mission Council's Local Development Committee) and Carol Finlay (Twinning and Local Development Secretary) are visiting Ghana from 14 - 27 January 2011. They are meeting with our partner churches, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Footprints on our hearts

Kintampo waterfall, our driver, Fred, Carol and Solomon Sule Saa

Thursday 27th January

Last night we were chatting in one of the nicely air-conditioned rooms at the guest house in Accra where we were staying- then we stepped outside the room into the hall and could not believe the heat. It was like being in a sauna – this was 10pm at night yet the temperature and the humidity were still very high. It seems that, rather than January, the months of August and September provide the best time climate-wise to visit Ghana for then the air is less humid and the temperature a bit more bearable.

We breakfasted and packed our bags ready for home although we still had the whole day in front of us before our flight at 2205hrs. Fred, who had been our driver for the first week when we were on our ‘road trip’ came and picked us up and took us into the headquarters. We were able to meet formally with the Clerk and thank him for the welcome and hospitality we had received. We were also able to endorse the benefit of the programme and the way in which we had been enabled to be at the grassroots of the church during our visit.

Then back in Fred’s vehicle and off to the other side of town where we had a meeting with Christian Aid, Ghana. This was a very fruitful and enlightening time where we were able to meet with the staff and in particular Rebecca Dottey, the Acting Country Manager. We had a great conversation with this passionate, knowledgeable and articulate woman and we were able to record some of it for use back home. One of the important things Rebecca talked about was that working together with the Churches in Ghana is one of their most important relationships and it was good to have affirmed the work already underway, some of what we had heard about while in Tamale, Northern Presbytery. We hope to be able to process some of the material gathered and use it at the various day conferences with ministers in March this year.

Back to the Head Quarters of PCG and an opportunity to meet with the committee which is the equivalent of our Local Development Committee of the World Mission Council (WMC). Some of the committee membership is drawn from the reps at Presbytery level – in the same way as we do with our WMC Presbytery Convener. Interestingly enough two of the members are involved with a congregational twinning in their own congregation and one had been a Faithshare Visitor. The parallel system is probably one of the reasons that successful twinnings are ongoing. We shared lunch together and Iain and I went full circle – having the same lunch as we did on our first day in Ghana. However in between we have hardly eaten the same thing twice as there is enormous variety within Ghanaian food.

In the afternoon, Fred took us to the nearby Arts and Cultural centre, a short stroll but by the time we reached there, the sweat was dripping off us. Mind you it did not stop Carol doing a bit of bargaining while Iain was being fanned by some African men! It was great to also meet the men and women of a co-operative for folks with disabilities and to spend a few Cedis!

This only left time for a short debrief with Rev Solomon Sule Saa and goodbyes to the people in the office before heading towards the airport, stopping only for a final meal together on the way. It was lovely to sit outside in the Ghanaian evening air, eating the ever-interesting Ghanaian food - but sad to think that it was our last opportunity to do so in this way. We certainly would not be eating al fresco back in Scotland at this time of year!

Rev Samuel Ayete-Nyampong met us for a short time at the airport, and we chatted as we waiting in the inevitable, and frequently chaotic, queue! It was lovely to see him albeit only for a short time.

Then to the goodbyes…..it is hard to say goodbye when you have had a very special time. Throughout our trip we have come across the word ‘footprints’ many times and in many contexts... We have been blessed by so many experiences and enriched by so many new and deep friendships that we both we believe that we are leaving Ghana with footprints of friendship on our hearts.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Say hello and wave goodbye

Friday 22 Jan:

Following our now familiar pattern of 'pack and go' we met with the officebearers of Kwahu Presbytery - last night strangers: this morning friends.

We exchanged gifts - we were presented with Kente scarves saying Kwahu Presbytery. We finished the meeting by singing 'Auld Lang Syne' -at the request of the Ghanaians. Then we went to visit the parish minister who is also one of the Presbytery Directors. He had been involved in a very serious car crash and had sustained multiple injuries. He is minister at the Ramsayer Church in Abitifi. Then we went walkabouts for a short time around Abitifi looking at some of the original mission buildings and a missionary cemetery and on the way meeting a local traditional healer who showed Carol the potions he was carrying.

Back on the road we reached the top of the escarpment and on a sharp bend we saw a lorry which had crashed through the barrier and was hanging over the precipice. A lucky escape for the driver.At least we learned something from the incident - the barriers were not likely to stop us.

The journey to Hohoe was longer than we had anticipated and so we had to buy some snacks from roadside stalls on the way - including groundnuts,  tiger nuts (look it up on Google) roasted plantain and the ripest, juiciest, sun-warmed mangoes. We have some photos of Carol eating a mango but they are not for publication. We crossed over the Volta at Akosombo and once again the landscape changed.
As before, we entertained ourselves by singing through our repertoire of hymns, songs, choruses and Scottish folk songs - none of which we could remember properly - but at least we could remember our new Ghanaian songs.

We arrived in Hohoe (pronounced something like Haw-hoy-e with the stress on the first syllable. We had thought that it would be pronounced 'Ho'Ho' and we might be able to twin it with Macmerry Church in Lothian! But now we know how it should be said.)

However we first of all had to find it. After one or two about-turns in tight spaces in the main (and busy) marketplace Solomon phoned ahead and they sent out the catechist (a bit like a lay reader) on his motorbike wearing a T-shirt which said "PRAY WITHOUT CEASING." It turned out that his name was also Fred just like our driver.

The congregation here in Hohoe have just agreed to twin with North Queensferry Parish Church and we were able to share with the minister and some of the congregation a few of the possibilities that this twinning might open up for both churches.On first meeting everyone was a little bit shy and perhaps tense until Solomon introduced Carol by her newly acquired Ghanaian title 'Talata Abina' - which let everyone know that Carol was born on a Tuesday. The woman next to her had also been born on a Tuesday so immediately they hugged and became sisters.

The congregation is a newly established one in an area where there are not many PCG churches and the minister has only recently come but he is energetic and has a vision for his congregation and he was excited at the prospect of the twinning. We were shown around their church building which at the moment is simply a large shed that the congregation rents. However in front of the Manse is a growing pile of concrete blocks. They are being handmade by the parishioners in preparation for the building of a new church.

On the way into the compound Iain had spotted a sign saying "Grasscutters Breeding Programme" and wondered "What do you you get when you cross a scythe with a sit-on lawnmower?" but it turned out that a grasscutter is a kind of rodent which is something of a delicacy. As far as we know we haven't eaten one yet...but we may have as we just eat what is given to us.

Before we left, Iain discovered that one of the women present was the leader of the church choir and he asked the group to sing. Within a few minutes we were all joining in. They are a wonderfully happy group of Christians and we are sure the folk at North Queensferry Church will love to meet them. We'll be bringing back for North Queensferry a short recorded message from the minister.

However, we could not stay there as long as we would have liked because it was still quite a long journey to Ho. It felt quite sad that it would be our last journey with Solomon and Fred who have become such good friends.

By the time we arrived in Ho it was already dark and we persuaded Solomon and Fred to stay in Ho until the morning rather than drive to Accra in the darkness. It meant that our farewell to them would be at 5am but we didn't mind.

It was time, however, to begin making new friends and we were welcomed by Rev. Dr. Seth Agidi, the newly appointed Programmes, Ecumenical and Social Relations Secretary of the EP Church, and a short time later by Rev. Godwin Osiakwa, Clerk to the General Assembly.

Our accommodation in this instance is the Kekeli Hotel which is owned and run by the EP Church.

Shall we gather at the river?

A blog entry from 18th January - previously lost in the ether!

Picture the scene. The church is full (about 300 people) and the preacher is in full flight, his booming voice amplified and the congregation responding vigorously and vocally. There are shouts of “Halleluia!” and loud bursts of laughter. We are ushered into the sanctuary and led up to a high platform towards a line of “thrones” or so it appears. As we are behind the massive loudspeakers we can hardly make out a word that the preacher is saying or even what language he is speaking in. We are at a Revival meeting in Ebenezer Presbyterian Church at Sunyani. And we are “on next.” Thankfully the preacher continues for at least another half hour giving us at least some time to think of what might be an appropriate message to give in the situation.

All of this is at the end of a day which started at 6am in Tamale. After saying our goodbyes to the Chairman of Northern Presbytery we set off on our journey south towards Sunyani. On the way we visited an agricultural project. While there we witnessed the morning rush hour which consisted of several large flocks of cattle egrets about a metre above the road flying at speed along the course of the road only moving aside for any traffic coming in the opposite direction.

A further two hours down the road we reached the Black Volta, scene of devastating floods last August, the signs of which were still very evident. We got out of the vehicle to take some photographs and chat with some of the locals. The Church of Scotland had given an emergency grant towards the relief  work being done in the area by the PCG.

Further South again we stopped to see the Waterfalls at Kintampo which gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs (climbing up and down the 152 steps to the  falls.)

By around noon we had arrived at Sunyani where we were met by the Chairman and other representatives of the Brong Ahafo Presbytery. After lunch we had a formal meeting with them in which we exchanged ideas and  recorded some interviews. We were particularly impressed by the commitment to Prison Ministries,including the emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. We were also impressed by the work that is being done in the field of HIV and Aids.

There was time after the meeting for an hour of "Market Ministry" by Carol in the local street market, where at last she was able to use  her full haggling powers. It was interesting to see all the different kinds of grain, cereal, fruit and dried fish on sale and to interact with the traders and other locals of all ages, many of whom asked us to take their photographs. The Ghanain people are extremely friendly and outgoing.

Back to the hotel for a quick dinner and then it was off to Ebenezer thinking "I wonder what we are going to encounter tonight."

At the cross and around a table….sharing together

Wednesday 26th January

Started the day again with the staff of the EP Church head Offices at their morning worship and where we were presented with a lovely Ghanaian Kente scarf. We were able to say goodbye to them as this was our last day in Ho. However before we left we had further things to experience. We set of for Bremen Village which is a few miles beyond the city of Ho towards the border of Togo. It is here that the EP Church and particularly the Western Presbytery has established a weekly healing service. We were surprised and delighted to discover that one of the ministers leading the service was none other than our friend Rev Gabriel Akoli. The service was already underway in the church and after praise and prayer and a short sermon, all in the local language, the congregation made their way outside to a clearing among the trees where there was a large white wooden cross – the remainder of the service took place around the cross. At a particular point people were invited forward for prayer and many people responded.

Although the singing was lively, there was a sense of unhurried calm and gentle peacefulness as the sun filtered through the trees around the cross. The church and the area on which the cross stood were situated in an agricultural station owned by the EP Church and it had been arranged with the Director of the Agric Programme that we would meet him. However the service was still going on and Carol remained there while Iain and Rev Agidi met with the Director. At the end of the service Carol was able to share with the congregation why we were in Ghana and the importance of being able to not just hear about the various church activities but to participate in them.

Meanwhile Iain was finally getting to see a ‘grasscutter’ in the flesh as the Agric Programme was breeding them – their real name is the African Cane rat and they are about 18-24 inches long, with thick fur and a set of very sharp teeth. They are vegetarian and can destroy crops. However they provide very good nutrition and are bred for food not for their ability to mow the lawn! He also saw the small ruminant programme and the rabbit breeding venture.

On the way back to Ho we visited Mawuli Estate Church. They had tentatively started a twinning with a Scottish Congregation, however some work needs done to develop it. Carol had a picture in her mind that this was an estate such as a tea estate or something similar but we found it was a church within a housing estate, with some impressive houses and some new building work happening. This church was another example of a ‘church without walls’, bizarrely the walls consisted of chicken wire fencing with rolls of razor wire at the top. It was difficult to understand why the razor wire was there as there was a very large doorway and no door! Perhaps the razor wire was an artistic alternative to stained glass?

We had been invited to Dr Agidi’s house for lunch; of course he was now Seth to us as we had become friends on the journey. His lovely wife Madeline had prepared a feast which included …guess what….grasscutter soup to eat with our fufu. The meat tasted like a mixture of venison and brisket…sort of!

By mid afternoon we were packed and ready for the drive back to Accra, traffic was heavy and progress slow. It was nearly 7pm when we arrived at the home of Rev Solomon Sule Saa where we were greeted like long lost friends….which is precisely what we felt we were. It was great to spend the evening with Solomon and his wife Beatrice and with Seth. Together around a table we ate with our colleagues from both Partner Churches in Ghana…not doing business but enjoying time together as friends. Sounds familiar?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What a palaver

Everyone in Ghana wants to talk to you
Tuesday 25 Jan: Burns Night and not a haggis in sight! But we've just had a meal of rice and fish and spicy sauce and vegetables. It's been a long, and very hot day. Thankfully it is not 'burns' night in another sense, as we have been indoors most of the day at meetings avoiding the sun. 

We began with Morning Prayers at the Headquarters, the talk being given by the Moderator. Then, after breakfast, we met with the Standing Committee, who, surprisingly enough, were all sitting when we went in. The Standing Committee consists of The Moderator, Clerk to the Assembly, and several Directors of Church Programmes probably with a similar remit to our Council of Assembly.

We confirmed with the Moderator all the things we had talked about on the Sunday evening. Yesterday we forgot to let you know about the Sunday evening. We had been taken to the Sky Plus Hotel which, as far as we know is not owned by Rupert Murdoch, but it was definitely HD, that is Highly Delightful. The hotel is set on the top of a hill overlooking Ho. It was night-time. The stars were shining as we sat outside and looked down on the lights of the town, while behind us the illuminated fountain provided a gentle background sound (which was occasionally drowned out by some bizzarely-chosen country music on the sound system.) Food was great. Carol had a bit of a palaver eating hers however, simply because what she chose was boiled yams with palaver sauce (which is made from spinach and fine shreds of beef in a hot chilli sauce.) Iain chose freshly-caught Volta perch. We had an opportunity to talk informally with the Moderator and the members of the Standing Committee (they were sitting then too.) It was lovely to be able to talk at length and in some depth about twinning, volunteers, prison ministries, HIV and climate-change, interspersed with general chat and lots of laughter.

But back to today... The more formal meeting with the Moderator and Standing Committee gave a positive endorsement to all the ideas and suggestions which we had shared on the Sunday evening and the EP Church Executive committed themselves to taking forward our shared work.

We then spent most of the rest of the day in the company of one particular SC member, Mrs. Lydia Adajawah who is the Presbyter Executive of the General Assembly. She is responsible for a number of programmes, including HIV and climate change. She took us first to a project which ministers to 'street children' integrating them back into everyday life, their own families and school or employment. Then we visited a couple of large high schools and met with the Headteachers. We were able to share with them about Professional Volunteers and Books Abroad.

Next stop was the Conference Room of the hotel where an HIV-Counselling Workshop was being delivered to a group of religious leaders, Christian and Muslim. We had an opportunity to speak with them before going back to Lydia's office to meet the Project Co-ordinator for HIV and AIDS work in the EP Church, a young but very able man called Godwin. He explained their vision for setting up a network of 'focus people' trained in HIV issues in each Region, Presbytery, District  and Congregation. As with Scotland, stigma and discrimination are still very real issues here in Ghana.

We had a short break before then meeting with the Climate-Change Desk Officer, Charles (otherwise known as Chas.) That was a very interesting and inspiring conversation, some of which we recorded. We look forward to sharing it with Adrian, the Church of Scotland's climate change officer, when we return. 

We then returned to the HIV conference to meet with the EP ministers, just before they left for home to share a little bit more with them about the Church of Scotland's own HIV Programme.

All in all a very busy schedule but some good work accomplished.

Before supper we had hoped to meet the Woman's Guild at Dela Church but Seth said he had misplaced them (careless.) We think he meant that he had got the wrong night. So instead we visited one of the several choirs. I think probably it was the 'Great Choir.' In any case, they were great and it proved a very enjoyable way to bring our day's work to an end.
Making friends

A bit Ghanain

Monday 24th January

Before breakfast we went over to the Head Office for morning prayers which were being led by one of the catechists. She wasn't supposed to be leading it but the person on the rota had not turned up. Carol said it made her feel very much at home - just like 121 on a Monday morning!

We were welcomed by the Clerk to the Assembly and both Iain and Carol spoke to the staff. Then after a breakfast of corn-flakes with evaporated milk, followed by sausage, beans and toast, we set off in the car for Peki, visiting a poultry farm on the way to collect eggs for our hotel's restaurant.

Before Iain left for Ghana he had received a message from a colleague asking him to look out for someone he knew in Ghana- a Rev. Gabriel Akoli. We both thought this would be an unlikely scenario. However, arriving in Peki we were introduced to none other than the Rev. Gabriel Akoli, who had been a Faithshare Partner in Perth Presbytery in the year 2000. He is now Presbytery Moderator of Western Presbytery as well as being the national director for Prison Ministries. We recorded an interesting conversation with him on this work.

He then showed us around the area, which included the first EP Church (the old building no longer used as such) and the newer church nearby, as well as a missionary graveyard and the 'Shepherd Centre for the Ageing.' This is the main centre for a network of 78 branches of this programme which supports elderly people in the community. The programme was established by our host- and now friend- Rev. Dr. Seth Agidi. The service offered reflects much of what is provided by Crossreach in its day-care centres. 

This is how meetings should be held ...Peki EP Seminary
We also visited the nearby seminary, walking to it through blistering midday heat, and meeting some interesting characters on the way. It has been a very hot and humid day altogether. The meeting with the Principal and staff of the seminary was interesting not least because the Principal's first name was McWilson. No Scottish influence there then. It was a beautiful place but what caught our eye most of all was the sign which read:


That has actually been a bit of a struggle for us, especially in the first part of this trip where we have been in a different location each day, never sure of what day of the week it was - although we have always known why we are here.

The plan had been to return for lunch about 1pm but it was, in fact well after 3.30pm before we were tucking into a large plate of rice with peanut soup, which included green chilli, okra and garden eggs (a kind of small squash) and fresh pineapple.

We had a short break before our next trip which was to visit another large congregation (ELORM CHURCH)  in Ho. When we arrived in the car park we could hear the strains of a lively band of young musicians playing trumpets, trombones and drums under a tree. Perhaps it was the BB band ... but not as we know it. In fact, the level of musicianship was excellent and not surprisingly exuberant.

We were introduced to Rev Obed Klu, a parish minister brought out of retirement to help lead this large congregation of 1800 members, with the help of a second minister and a catechist. Rev Klu had once been the Principal at the seminary in Peki, as had Dr. Seth Agidi, but perhaps even more interesting was the fact that as well as being a practising minister Rev Klu is a registered traditional herbalist. Carol asked to see some of his medicines and he brought in some samples of herbal potions and a bag of dried herbs. She also asked him a few searching (perhaps even sceptical) questions.

The main reason for our visit however [i.e. WHY WE WERE HERE] was to hear one of the church's eleven choirs! This choir, usually responsible for leading the singing of more traditional hymns, is called 'The Great Choir' and to be honest it sounded pretty good, if not great - even when Iain taught them how to sing the Peruvian Gloria.

So we know where we are tonight - because we are staying in the same place as last night -and we know why we are here, but we are not so sure of who we are any more. We think we have become a bit Ghanaian.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Who said Sunday was a day of rest?

Sunday 23 Jan 
No such thing as a lie-in here. We were up, breakfasted and ready to be collected by Rev Seth Agidi for the first of three morning services by 7am! It is great to see that Seth is committed to building relationships at grassroots level and had picked for us three congregations which were different in size as well as the way in which they worshipped. 
The first service was in the very large congregation of Dela Evangelical Presbyterian (EP) Church which is beside the Headquarters of the EP Church. We were at the youth service and there were around 300 people there. The church is vast and has a congregation total of 4000 members. The worship was led by a praise band and a different choir from the one we had been with last night- the singing was fantastic. As we came out the folks were gathering for the main service and we met last night’s choir; they were busy singing to us the song Iain had taught them.  Quick learners! The whole scene was bright not just with the sun but with the beautifully coloured outfits of the ladies and some men in traditional dress – a cloth that covers over all their body apart from one arm – a bit like a big plaid. Some were carrying seats or large traditional drums, others standing chatting and others scurrying around purposely. It was a scene which made you want to stay but we had to move on….
The second congregation was a small rural congregation around 30 minutes drive from Ho and was called Wegbe Kpalime congregation and is the home of the current Moderator, Rt Rev Francis Amenu, who is coming to Scotland for the General Assembly this year.  The Moderator was not there as he was on other business but we were very warmly welcomed by the congregation and we literally had to squeeze into the small building as it was already crammed with worshippers. They had the bunting up and the band consisted of drums, shakers and 2 trombones and two trumpets. Carol sat in the congregation with a lovely lady called Mabel and Iain was on the platform at the front with the ministers. However, as we do in every congregation, we both spoke to the folks. We also saw the site of their new church which they have been building from congregational donations for 10 years now. It is almost ready except for the roof which is a major expense for them but they are hopeful they may worship in the new church soon.
The third congregation was EP SSNIT Flats. The flats around the church are about 4 storeys high and are aimed at a low to middle income renter. This was our middle sized congregation of around 150 people. Their singing was fantastic and their choir so smart in their black and white robes.
Lunch today was red-red which we have been waiting for all week – a bean stew which was very tasty. It was served up with plantain and chicken, followed by fresh juicy watermelon. Iain preached a mini ‘sermon’ to Mawina, the girl who works in the restaurant as we waited for lunch to be ready. We then had a couple of hours to relax – first this week!
Now we are about to go to a meeting with the Moderator of EP Church and various office-bearers. Will let you know how it all goes in our next blog.